A reason for sadness at the death of FW de Klefrk

Posted on November 15, 2021


Had justice and the rule of law prevailed in South Africa in 1993, Frederick Willem — FW — de Klerk, the last apartheid president, would have been in jail and not flying to Oslo to be jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela. He, alongside a number of other ministerial securocrats, would have faced charges of mass. murder. But 1993 was a time of compromises, of mutual back-scratching and the launch of the era of rainbow nation myths.

Such myths are starting to wear thin, but continue to be promoted, understandably by remnants of the old regime and, sadly, by senior figures in government and the ANC. The prime myth in this regard is that FW de Klerk was the individual responsible for bringing about the end of apartheid; that he was somehow deserving of the joint 1993 Nobel Peace Prize award with Nelson Mandela.

That is the core of the fantasy. For De Klerk was an apartheid hardliner, chosen by the real powers behind the scenes because he was also seen as an opportunist who would not turn down the chance to be president. Although it is still unclear, it seems that the real manipulators and motivators were the late Professor Pieter de Lange, chair of the secretive Afrikaner Broederbond and his lieutenant and chief of the National Intelligence Service, Daniel — “Niel” — Barnard. They were supported by the likes of defence minister Kobie Coetzee.

But Kobie Coetzee appeared alongside De Klerk and others in an indictment for murder filed with the Transkei High Court in October 1993, only weeks before the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize award. The charge related to the massacre of five school students while asleep in. the front room of a home in. Mthatha’s North Crest suburb. But this was in the Transkei, ignored by most media as some sort of apartheid backwater where few journalists ventured.

The killings were announced by De Klerk as an attack on a “terrorist base” in an apparent attempt to placate a restive “white right” by showing kragdaadigheid (power in action) by his administration. De Klerk appeared on television, complete with gory Polaroid pictures, to claim that an “Apla base” had been destroyed. But this “Apla base” turned out to comprise Samora and Sadat, the 16-year-old twins of local butcher Sigqipo Mpendulo, and their friends, Thanda Mthembu, 17, and Mzwandile Mfeya and Sandiso Yose, both 12 years old.

As an independent investigation by the national directorate of the Lawyers for Human Rights noted: “[That] there exists a prima facie case of murder arising from this incident is without question.” Mandela, when he heard of the incident, referred to it as “an act of thuggery” That was a week before the announcement that he and De Klerk would jointly be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. None-the-less, a week later, Mandela stated on a television talk show: “For a president to authorise the killing of children is a blatant act of terrorism.”

This comment was understandable since Mandela was aware at the time that De Klerk had been for years been a member of the State Security Council (SSC) that had sat at the head of as vicious regime of murder and mayhem in the apartheid cause. He referred to De Klerk as “a man with blood on his hands”. But such comments tended to be drowned out as politicians and media around the world hailed what was seen as a unique and peaceful breakthrough.

At the time, I was perhaps the only journalist who visited and maintained contact with the Transkei. So I wrote about the murder charges lodged in the Transkei High Court and submitted the reports to local and overseas media. None agreed to publish. As the then BBC correspondent, Feargal Keane remarked when I complained: “Who wants to bugger up a fairytale?”

And a fairytale it was, although it was anything but peaceful for ordinary citizens on the ground. But the process continued and the rainbow myth was promoted. Along with it came the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) a process by which the horrendous truths of the apartheid past were supposed to be exposed and reconciliation sought through amnesty and, where necessary, prosecutions.

Perhaps, as TRC investigations head, Dumisa Ntsebeza was later to admit, “The TRC was the best we could have hoped for.” But it did not expose even a fraction of the truth, and served very little in terms of justice. Even the prosecutions recommended by the process were ignored: boastful and swaggering killers publicly dismissed the TRC with the wave of a hand.

However, some families kept fighting, seeking justice. The Timol and the Calata families and the relatives of Neil Agget are examples.. They want to know the truth of what happened in those terrible years of officially sanctioned murder and repression. And they do not celebrate the death of FW de Klerk; tbey mourn his passing because his death closes one more access to the truth of a hurtful and horrific chapter in. the history of South Africa.
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